Cultural Postcards + [Syria]

Near East: Call for U.N. to ban trade in Syrian antiquities
More than 80 prominent archaeologists and other scholars from around the world have signed an open letter calling on the United Nations Security Council to ban trade in Syrian antiquities, a market they say is now destroying Syria’s cultural heritage and providing funding for extremist groups.

Call for U.N. to ban trade in Syrian antiquities
Bas-relief work on display at the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad. 
Scholars say antiquities from parts of Iraq and Syria controlled
by the Islamic State are threatened by looting 
[Credit Hadi Mizban/Associated Press]

“Our shared world heritage in Syria is being looted and turned into weapons of war,” the letter says. “Ancient sites dating back to the very earliest moments of human civilization are being crudely dug up and sold to foreign collectors.”

It adds: “Most countries are lucky if they have one or two U.N. world heritage sites. Syria has six, including the capital, Damascus, and the ancient city of Aleppo. As the birthplace of the world’s first alphabet and the earliest days of Christianity and Islam, the influence of Syria’s history on modern society is hard to overestimate.”

In 2003, amid widespread looting of archaeological sites and museums in Iraq, the Security Council passed a resolution urging countries to prohibit trade in Iraqi antiquities in cases where “reasonable suspicion” existed that the items had been illegally removed from the country.

In a speech at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry said that “ancient treasures in Iraq and in Syria have now become the casualties of continuing warfare and looting.”

“And no one group has done more to put our shared cultural heritage in the gun sights,” Mr. Kerry said, than the militant group known as the Islamic State, which now controls parts of Syria and Iraq.

The open letter regarding Syria, which has been torn by more than three years of civil war, is an effort led by Amr Al-Azm, an assistant professor of Middle East history at Shawnee State University in southern Ohio. The list of signers includes Stefan Weber, the director of the Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin and Harvey Weiss, professor of Near Eastern archaeology at Yale University.

Author: Randy Kennedy | Source: ArtsBeat/New York Times [September 25, 2014]